Before the harbor silted over, Miletus was one of the greatest commercial centers of the Greek world, and the Milesians renowned for their quick wits and courage. The first settlers were Minoan Greeks from Crete who arrived between 1400 BC and 1200 BC. The Ionians, who arrived 200 years later, slaughtered the male population and married the widows. The philosopher Thales was born here in the early 6th century BC. He calculated the height of the pyramids at Giza, suggested that the universe was actually a rational place despite its apparent disorder, and coined the phrase "Know thyself." Miletus was also home to the mathematicians Anaximenes and Anaximander—the former contended that air was the single element behind the diversity of nature; the latters' ideas anticipated the theory of evolution and the concept of the indestructibility of matter—and one of the architects of Haghia Sophia. Like the other Ionian cities, Miletus was passed from one ruling empire to another and was successively governed by Alexander's generals Antigonus and Lysimachus and Pergamum's Attalids, among others. Under the Romans the town finally regained some control over its own affairs and shared in the prosperity of the region. St. Paul preached here at least twice in the 1st century.
The archaeological site is sprawled out along a desolate plain, and laced with well-marked trails. The parking lot is right outside the city's most magnificent building—the Great Theater, a remarkably intact 25,000-seat, free-standing amphitheater built by the Ionians and maintained by the Romans. Along the third to sixth rows some inscriptions reserving seats for notables are still visible. The fabulous vomitoria, huge vaulted passages leading to the seats, have the feel of a modern sporting arena. Climb to the top of the theater for a look at the walls of the defensive fortress built atop it by the Byzantines, and a view across the ancient city. Try to picture the busy harbor and the waves that once lapped what is now the edge of the parking lot.
To see the rest of the ruins, follow the dirt track down from the right of the theater. A row of buildings marks what was once a broad processional avenue. The series begins with the Delphinion, a sanctuary of Apollo; a stoa (colonnaded porch) with several re-erected Ionic columns; the foundations of a Roman bath and gymnasium; and the first story of the Nymphaion, all that remains of the once highly ornate three-story structure, resembling the Library of Celsus at Ephesus, that once distributed water to the rest of the city.
To the south, the dirt track becomes a tree-lined lane that leads to the Ilyas Bey Camii, a mosque built in 1404 in celebration of its builder and namesake's escape from Tamerlane, the Mongol terror. The mosque has been rather over-restored, but still retains some charm. Nearby stands a Seljuk hamam (public bath) added to the site in the 15th century, with pipes for hot and cold water still visible. Parts of the site are sometimes overgrown, and snakes have been spotted here, so wear close-toed shoes if planning to explore beyond the main path.
A three-minute drive outside the gates of the site, the small, newly opened Milet Müzesi presents interesting artifacts from the site and the surrounding area with panache. Their bright displays will help you conjure a vision of ancient Miletus and its world. Ask your tour guide in advance if you can make at least a short stop here. If driving, ask the guards to point you in the right direction as you exit the Miletus archaeological site.
- Address: 22 km (14 miles) south of Priene on Rte. 09–55, 09430
- Phone: 256/875–5206
- Cost: 5 TL; audioguide 10 TL; museum 3 TL
- Hours: Daily 8–7 (closes around 5 in winter); museum Tues.–Sun. 8–7 (closes around 4 in winter)
- Location: Priene, Miletus and Didyma